It may seem a bit counterintuitive, but in the theater world there is strength in numbers.
At least that’s the way Proctors CEO Philip Morris feels. For more than a decade, Morris has been busy filling up his 2,700-seat venue while at the same time heartily supporting smaller community theaters in downtown Schenectady such as the Schenectady Civic Playhouse and Schenectady Light Opera Company.
“There is an ecology with this business, and if the ecology is hurting, it’s hurting everywhere,” said Morris. “I absolutely support places like SLOC and the Civic Playhouse. Things are looking better and better at SLOC with their new space, and I love the new project that the [Schenectady] Civic Players are proposing. We are all downtown partners, and it helps everybody.”
Along with the Classic Theater Guild, which stages its shows at Proctors’ Fenimore Gallery and the GE Theatre, there are four distinct venues offering live entertainment to theater fans within a half-mile radius in downtown Schenectady. It’s an urban landscape unlike any other in the Capital Region. Additionally, Proctors’ box office handles ticket sales for the Schenectady Civic Playhouse and also partners with Albany’s Capital Repertory Theatre to help that group with promotions, marketing and ticket sales.
The partners-not-competitors-mentality seems to be working well downtown, but that doesn’t necessarily mean 2013 was a great success for the theater community.
“We had a rough year from January to September, and that was coming off a spectacular 2012,” said Morris. “Some things just didn’t perk the way we thought they might. We really didn’t start hitting all our targets until October. I had said that we were going to lose about $400,000 this year, but now I think the deficit will be closer to zero. I won’t know until another couple of weeks, but the business we did at the end of the year really helped us.”
Coming back strong
Morris is confident 2014 will be another banner year.
“We have some great stuff coming up this year,” he said. “ ‘The Book of Mormon’ is going to be great, and we expect to do well with ‘Phantom’ and “Newsies.’ I think it’s going to be a great season.”
Typically, Proctors easily recovers from one bad show or poor weather, but that doesn’t necessarily hold true for smaller companies. When a major snowstorm hit the area in December, it ironically wiped out a Saturday night audience for the Classic Theater Guild’s production of “White Christmas.”
“Our season can ride on our Christmas show, and when we got hit by a snowstorm on Dec. 15, that really impacted us in a negative way,” said guild President Amanda Stankavich. “We love our partnership with Proctors, and we want to continue to do shows at the Fenimore Gallery and the GE Theatre. But we may have to take two steps backward to make sure we can take one step forward.”
The Classic Theater Guild was created 10 years ago at the Hilton Center in Albany. The troupe produced shows in several venues over the next eight seasons before finding a home at Proctors in 2010.
“We have a workspace at 137 State St., so we may put on a few shows there,” said Stankavich. “Obviously that’s a much more intimate space — it only seats about 50 — so we’re hopeful of using the GE Theatre for our Christmas show next year, which has over 400 seats, or the Fenimore Gallery, which sits around 100. If you can have a big successful show at Proctors, it really helps your season, so that’s what we’re hoping to do.
“But we have to careful. We’ve been around for 10 years, and we want to stay around for at least 10 more years.”
Unlike the Classic Theater Guild, the Schenectady Light Opera Company and the Schenectady Civic Playhouse have been around for more than eight decades. But even though the two groups might be on sound financial footing, they too need a successful season to feel confident in the future.
“You throw in a bad show and a snowstorm, and it can really hurt your season,” said SLOC Vice President Bob Farquharson, who has been involved with the group for 30 years. “2013 was a tough year, but fortunately ‘Guys and Dolls’ had a fantastic run. That really helped because it’s not always about the economy. You have to be smart with the shows you pick for your season.”
In February 2011, SLOC moved into its new 250-seat facility, the former St. John the Baptist Church at 427 Franklin St. The group had been producing shows on State Street outside of the downtown area.
“2012 was so good, and it might have been the newness of the theater,” said Farquharson. “But, oh my God, we had to move out. We have a wonderful theater now, and we’re going to continue to do some tweaking with it. But if we hadn’t moved we’d probably be going out of business. Our patrons love the new theater.”
While “Guys and Dolls” was a hit in October, SLOC officials were also hoping for big things with the holiday children’s production of “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.” The weather, however, spoiled those plans.
“We had a wonderful youth production in ‘Charlie Brown,’ but the snowstorm in December really hit us hard that weekend,” said Farquharson. ” We were able to put the show on, but the weather just killed our audience.”
Schenectady Civic Players President Jean Carney said her group is doing everything it can to maintain its audience and attract new visitors to 12 S. Church St., in the Stockade section of the city. Earlier this month, the group announced renovation plans to its 125-year-old building, including an elevator that will bring the venue into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“We bring people downtown, and I think it’s important to work with local government and community leaders to do the best we can,” said Carney. “We feel that the Schenectady Civic Playhouse plays a vital role in the progress that has been made downtown, and we hope to be a big part of that continuing renewal.”
“The SantaLand Diaries” was the holiday offering put on by the Civic Players, and despite the Dec. 14 snowstorm that hurt so many other productions, the playhouse was nearly filled.
“We actually got a pretty good crowd for that performance, and we were really heartened by it,” said Carney said. “So we had a pretty good year, a healthy year, I would say, and with all our improvements and renovations, we have planned we’re optimistic about the future.”
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or firstname.lastname@example.org.